Birth & Parenting Series (7): Homeschooling Mama Shares Her Path to Schooling
Part 1 (Thoughts From a Mother of Four) is here, part 2 (Mother of Seven Shares Her Empowering Birth Stories) is here, part 3 (First-Time Mother of Twins) is here, part 4 (How First-Time Parents Braved a Placental Abruption) is here, part 5 (Childbirth Collective Doula Film Premiere) is here, and part 6 (First-Time Mama Bravely Faces Transverse Baby & C-Section) is here.
This mother of five chose homeschooling after a brief stint for her eldest daughter in traditional schooling. She shares how she got there, why she chose that as best for her family, and what they do during the day. It’s inspirational! What a family. She also runs the website Diapeepees about her young son with diabetes. See link here. She says she’s a novice, but she’s pushing pro in my world!
Homeschooling: A Novice’s Perspective.
Homeschooling. An idea that is simultaneously intriguing and intimidating to a young mother. As my daughter approached school age, I remember telling everyone we were heading in the homeschool direction. But at the last minute, I fell for a Catholic school girl uniform and sent her off to kindergarten. It was easier that way, quite a relief in fact. Homeschooling was a grand idea, but I had no idea how to actually implement it.
Then we moved. The new Catholic school was expensive. I wasn’t sure I wanted my daughter in school anymore anyway. She was only on the verge of second grade then, but I was already worried about infiltrating influences. In a culture that flashes overly mature images at immature eyes, many little kids know very startling things—and they share them. It’s unfortunate that one has to be concerned about what’s being said among second graders on a playground, but I was. Not only did I want to hold onto my daughter’s innocence, I wanted to hold onto her personality. She had such a lovely sense of self. I wanted to let it continue to grow on its own terms—among family members who loved her—instead of allowing it to be malshaped by the pressure of her peers.
I grew up mostly in public schools, but homeschooling wasn’t alien to me. I ran with a Catholic crowd, and a lot of my fellow mothers either had been homeschooled or were planning on pursuing it. Still, most of them didn’t have kids in school yet. Where I really got a chance to see how homeschooling worked was in the blogosphere. I had already been previewing the scene for years, marveling at the abilities of these women to run a household and to provide an interactive education complete with recipes, science labs, read alouds, paints and Popsicle stick crafts. I knew there was a potential lesson everywhere. But would this really work at my house?
Like any novice, I felt unsure how to begin. When my daughter was in school, I barely paid attention to what she did in class. I was already confident in her reading abilities, and I trusted the teacher to add the math, science and history she thought best. I didn’t think it was really all that hard to put together a curriculum for a 7 year old—until it was my turn to try it. I remember paging through William J. Bennett’s “The Educated Child” to get a feel for what she should be learning, and it mentioned the early civilizations of Asia! I was close to terrified. Maybe I just needed a ready-made curriculum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one that I liked; they were either too easy or too boring, too big or too expensive.
For that first year, I would just have to experiment. I began setting up school for two, as my son was scheduled to start kindergarten that fall. We ended up with texts for English and math (my son’s was just one of those big workbooks from Sam’s); history books from the library; science by my own design (exploring topics like spiders and the human body); and lots of art projects. I found a free online curriculum that helped me fill in some holes. The results were decent, but I spent way too much time planning.
It’s now almost three years later. We’ve gone through lots of changes already, added new books, adjusted schedules and best of all, we’ve streamlined. My children have texts, for the most part, but we don’t limit ourselves to them. It just helps me to make sure that we’re meeting our grade-level goals. We don’t use one particular curriculum—we marry a few together—and then throw in some of my own picks for fun. Every day is the same enough that my children know exactly what is expected of them, and they can do most of it independently: date work (a daily journal); math and drill; English; writing; history; handwriting; and reading. We do simple projects in the afternoons, when it is convenient to our schedule, that usually revolve around science; geography; or ancient history. Our literature is read before bed, when the smaller ones are tucked away and asleep. Religion seeps in through daily prayer, holy day festivities and a more formal catechesis program at church. We squeeze in a lot of our extra curriculars and field trips on the weekends, when dad is home to help. Then once a week, I get a much-appreciated afternoon off, when the kids take art, music, and writing classes at a “school” for homeschoolers.
It sounds like so much, but in the end, we can get through it rather efficiently. Most of their individual assignments are done by lunch. During this time I’m not usually at the table, but I’m accessible. To be honest, I could do more teaching, but I don’t always try to pack it in. I need my time, too, to care for the house, make phone calls, go to appointments, run to the store. And the children need time to play. I remember previewing a 1st grade classroom—when I was rethinking school for my son—and I was so disheartened to see that there weren’t any toys. But they still need toys! Those imaginations need to be cultivated. They don’t need academics and mother-guided activities all day long. I can’t tell you how much joy fills my heart when I see my 9-year-old daughter and her sister, who’s 3, clinging to the couch, “lost at sea” in the middle of the basement.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to our homeschool was trying to figure out what to do with the little ones. While we certainly don’t have some of the distractions that exist in more institutional settings, my 4, 3 and 1 year olds can cause quite a bit of commotion. What’s helped a lot this year has been integrating some of the ideas I’ve seen used in Montessori classrooms. I keep several learning activities lined up attractively on the shelf and rotate them regularly. Just displaying them, instead of keeping them buried in the closet, makes them so much more enticing to tiny hands. My house is still not silent—it can be embarrassingly loud—but all the kids are better occupied now, and we have quiet places to study if necessary.
I will caution that it is hard not to compare. Sometimes it’s scrolling through blogs and feeling woefully inadequate when you see a mother of eight creating a whole table of crafts designed to showcase the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Other times it’s talking with another homeschooler, and casually fishing for information about their daily schedule. (Her children study until dinner! They’ve already started a language! They avoid all workbooks! They take piano, even the 3 year old!)
What is easy to forget is that one of the greatest things about homeschooling is its independence—an independence that allows us to sculpt school plans that embrace our family’s uniqueness. While I certainly recommend turning to others for guidance and inspiration, it is important to remember that there are many ways to turn out a well-rounded student. When I start to have doubts, I ask myself: “Do I feel my children are where they should be for their age and abilities?” That is my academic gauge, one that will quickly tell me if it is indeed necessary for us to do more. And, the other question I ask, “Are my children learning the life lessons they need to grow up to be faith-filled, responsible adults?” It is this second inquiry that usually requires me to re-evaluate, because it can so easily be lost among the math texts and grammar books. Yet, it is precisely here where I think homeschooling can truly make a difference.
I share my observations here only as a novice. Many mothers have taught longer; more kids; harder subjects. Our homeschool works, but it also needs work (and it probably always will!) Still, we have something good here. I’m maximizing my motherhood. I’m fulfilling my God-given role, in a very complete way, as my kids’ primary teacher. And I’m doing a lot of loving, all day long, tending to my children’s most intricate and intimate needs in ways that only a mama can. Homeschooling is more than just giving a child an education. It is nurturing a child.
Other Helpful Links: